FABLE / Telstar & Sir-Tech / PC
The death of the adventure game genre is frequently blamed on the changing tastes of PC gamers as the FPS came to prominence and gaming-caliber computers becoming more mainstream. That's partly true, but it's also because last "real" crop of adventure games from the mid to late 90s was pretty mediocre. With very few exceptions, they seemed more concerned with looking good than doing anything innovative or interesting, or even being well-designed and entertaining.
Fable could be the poster boy for this period of adventure gaming, if it wasn't so obscure, small-budget and now completely forgotten due to Peter Molyneux co-opting the name a decade later. The backdrop graphics are very colorful and pretty, but the game largely tries to subsist on just that and snarky humor. Otherwise it's a rather rote adventure with boring scenarios and by-the-numbers item-fetch puzzles.
The game opens up with a ponderous introduction rendered in poor mid-90s 3D, which tells some overly elaborate yet generic fantasy story about Ye Olde Kingdom of Wencheslas. It immediately doesn't matter when the game starts - we're controlling a lad named Quickthorpe, outside his home village, and we are told that he has to leave on a quest to go to four elemental realms and defeat their main beasties to save the world or whatever. The whole game takes a non-serious and acerbic tone, anyway, so the rather dramatic set-up ends up seeming kind of pointless once the action gets underway.
Weird design decisions are quickly on display. The game has voice acting - quite a few actors, and they really aren't bad, either. But there's no music whatsoever, just ambient bird sounds and such! The game is also kill-happy, with Shadowgate Syndrome (a lot of cheap deaths just for exploring the game world and doing things that otherwise seem perfectly reasonable.) But when Quickthorpe dies, there's no death screen, no musical cue, no nothing ... he just kinda lies there until you restore a game or quit! I'm not sure if this was some sort of weird attempt at an artistic statement, or if they just rushed the game out the door without bothering to program in death messages.
The game really presents no challenge outside of the sheer amount of unexpected deaths. The item-chain puzzles are usually painfully obvious, and only interrupted by a Baddie here and there who generally stands around waiting on you until you use the right item on them. Even the Big Elemental Baddies that guard each realm generally sit there and wait for you to throw the right weapon at them.
With the lack of music and the weird responseless deaths, the game kind of has a whole post-modern nihilistic vibe going for it. That's probably giving the game too much artistic credit, though - more likely it's just a low-budget game that got rushed out the door and that the devs never cared about all that much anyway. The po-mo nihilist idea is backed up by the original ending, though; the game was first released in Europe, and in that version, it ends with us finding out that Quickthorpe is insane and the whole adventure was in his head while he was locked away in some kind of prison. Apparently in the U.S. re-release they inserted some generic happy ending instead. So possibly this game predates Metal Gear Solid 2 in being the first commercial release to actively try to fuck with the player and disappoint them, I dunno. Whatever the case may be, if you want to give people a punch in the grapes like that, you need to develop it along the way for it to mean anything. And it doesn't feel like this concept was woven into the narrative; just kinda tacked on to the end as a "clever" twist that hits a sour note.
* Gameplay Video